Donald Trump seen during a campaign rally in Macon, Ga., Nov. 30, 2015.
Christopher Aluka Berry—Reuters
December 2, 2015 5:10 PM EST

A key Republican operative outlined in a private memo in September how GOP Senate candidates should respond if Donald Trump wins the party’s nomination.

In a seven-page memo obtained by the Washington Post, Ward Baker, head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, says the party “should prepare for 2016, by understanding the environment and recognizing the Trump phenomenon.”

The letter goes on to suggest a series of tactics GOP Senate candidates should take to both capitalize on Trump’s success and distance themselves from his more controversial rhetoric. It begins by saying that “Trump is a misguided missile” and urging candidates to “not be tied to him so closely that we have to engage in permanent cleanup or distancing maneuvers.”

In a section on “Trump and Women” Baker quotes the Apollo 13 mission: “Houston, we have a problem.” It advises candidates to simply state that their wives and daughters were offended if they are asked about a controversial Trump statement and move on.

But the memo also says that Trump’s rise in the polls “exists because Washington politicians promise change, but don’t deliver. Your job is to deliver. In the past two cycles it was easy to say, ‘Washington’s broken’ but in 2016, you need to demonstrate that you’ll rip up the rotten roots and begin anew. To get on that reformist wave, advance clear-cut reforms that change the way Washington works.”

The letter mentions some specific ways candidates should engage with their electorate — “Consider doing some of the jobs the workers do in the machine shops, small businesses, and factories you visit,” Baker writes. Or: “Consider visuals that communicate change and reform… Consider featuring a candidate in a field ripping up a rotten tree stump so the field can be cleared and planting can be done.”

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Write to Tessa Berenson at tessa.berenson@time.com.

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